Parenting Styles Research Paper

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Parenting Styles

Authoritarian vs. Permissive Parenting

Deciding how to be a good parent is an issue with which all new parents struggle. Even from the earliest days of their baby's life, new parents wonder if they should respond to crying or let the child "cry it out." They wonder if they should carry around the baby or let the child get used to being alone. As the child grows, parents of stubborn 2-year-olds wonder how to respond to tantrums. Is it better to let the child have a fit and not respond at all? Or should the child be punished for such disruptive behavior? School-aged and teenage children present a whole new set of questions for parents who wonder how best to discipline their child while still provide love and unconditional pride. Folk wisdom abounds, and it seems everyone has advice about what works in their own family. Scholarly researchers have looked into these issues too, often following children raised under different parenting protocols to measure the long-term effects of those experiences.

This essay begins with an overview of the terminology used in the field, carefully explaining the labels commonly attached to parenting styles. Next, the essay reviews research results for some preliminary conclusions about the relative merits of authoritarian vs. permissive parenting styles. Finally, this author offers personal experience that seems to confirm some of the research findings.

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Parenting is itself difficult to define. After all, nearly everything parents do, whether or not the children are present, might be part of the overall parenting style. Most researchers categorize parenting into four distinct styles. Indeed, "parenting is a complex activity that includes many specific behaviors that work individually and together to influence child outcomes. Although parents many differ in how they try to control or socialize their children and the extent to which they do so, it is assumed that the primary role of all parents is to influence, teach, and control their children." (Parenting Style and its Correlates). Thus, parenting style refers to the specific strategies and philosophies that parents use as they seek to manage their children's growth and development.

Most researchers now rely on Baumrind (1991) who described and classified four kinds of parenting styles. Indulgent parents, also called permissive, tend to be lenient with their children. They allow their children to regulate themselves and see their parenting role as one in which they are responsive to their child's needs, but not demanding. They create a relatively un-structured environment for their children. Authoritarian parents are highly demanding. They direct their children's actions and do not believe they need to explain the reasons behind their rules. They create an environment that is highly structured and contains clear rules. They may even withhold love and affection from under-performing children. Authoritative parents are demanding and also responsive. They are similar to authoritarian parents, but are likely to be more responsive and more willing to allow their children to regulate themselves. Finally, uninvolved parents are neglectful and absent. They neither demand nor respond.

Most parents fall into one of the first two categories. They see their role as being either encouraging and responsive (permissive) or intrusive and demanding (authoritarian). Both of these types of parents tend to be convinced that their approach is the best way for them to support their children and raise them into competent adults. Permissive parents often argue that allowing their child the freedom to explore his or her environment without undue limitations and rules will empower the child, enhance creativity, and build self-esteem. Authoritarian parents believe structure is important for kids, and that setting high standards will encourage their children to excel. Researchers have followed children from both kinds of families, and the data is revealing.

Research Evidence: What Works?

As might be expected in such a highly personal issue area, researchers do not always agree with which parenting style is better. Some argue forcefully for permissive parenting, noting that "one of the problems with authoritarian parenting is that children, when in need of guidance and problem-solving assistance, natural turn to someone they feel loved and accepted by. This is often not the authoritarian parent." (Bradley). Others argue just as forcefully for the structure and consistency provided by authoritarian parents, insisting that permissive parents are not equipping their children with the rule-following and high standards skills they will need to succeed later in life. Permissive parenting, in this view, mistakenly allows children to set their own expectations and discipline themselves.

There are several criteria that might be considered relevant for assessing here. For example, what do researchers say about socialization and behavior problems? Evidence suggests that young children who suffer from shyness are likely to come from parents who did not allow their children to explore the world. That is, authoritarian parents, more likely to develop structures and rules that limit the experiences of their children, may in fact feed tendencies of those children to be shy. Researchers conclude that "parents who are less likely to encourage independence of thought and/or deed in their offspring are also more likely to have socially inhibited and shy youngsters." (Society for the Advancement of Education 2001). So, if shyness is considered a behavior problem, then permissive parenting is probably a better approach to encourage independence. When it comes to other behavior problems, however, the research presents a possibly different conclusion. Consistently, scholars find that "kids have fewer behavior problems and do better at school when their parents are Authoritative." (Dewar 2001).

Once kids have reached adolescence, different issues become important indicators of success. Research for this age group shows that authoritarian parenting is better than permissive parenting in producing high-performing students, but both parenting types come in behind authoritative styles (Dornbusch 1987). More important for teens is consistency. That is, parents that are overly moody or offer different expectations on different days may be more harmful to adolescent development than any particular style (Kopko 2007).

Some researchers have focused on whether or not all children will respond to parenting styles the same way, or, instead, if children from different ethnic backgrounds will have different experiences with the same parenting style. Indeed, research shows variation within the data. For example, authoritarian parenting style is especially important for success in all groups, but is correlated with higher academic performance only in European-Americans and Hispanic-Americans (Parenting Styles). Darling (1993) notes that "the prevalence of different styles of parenting varies markedly among ethnic groups in contemporary America" (495), thereby making it difficult to study differences without bias. Chao (2001) looked at the impact of parenting styles on Chinese-Americans and found that the positive academic effects of authoritarian parenting style were weaker for first generation Chinese-Americans.

To summarize the literature, there seems to be general consistency in research results regarding the impact of parenting style on socialization patterns in children: "In reviewing the literature on parenting style, one is struck by the consistency with which authoritative upbringing is associated with both instrumental and social competence and lower levels of problem behavior in both boys and girls at all developmental stages." (Parenting Style) However, some researchers have had trouble reproducing this consistency when asking slightly different questions. One study, for example, sought to probe connections between parenting styles and cognitive development and concluded that no such correlations exist (Tiller Other researchers have echoed this uncertainty, with one marco-study concluding that "contemporary evidence clearly points toward multiple roles for parents that often do not imply the deterministic effect once attributed to them." (Collins 2000: 228). Some researchers have sought to break down the categorization of parenting into defined styles, and instead focus on parenting goals, values, practices, and styles; these pieces of information are then matched with older childrens' willingness to be socialized and, finally, outcomes (Darling 1993). Finally, many have noted that parents often use a mix of approaches, being more permissive in certain cases and applying strict rules when they feel the situation warrants (Kopko 2007).

Personal Experience

As a parent of a two-year-old, I am beginning to struggle with my own parenting style. My daughter is starting to have tantrums when she doesn't get her way, and I have noticed that while many of those tantrums seem to be unavoidable, there may be some things I can do as a parent to reduce the number and/or intensity of her unhappy fits. One thing that seems to work well is to offer her the appearance of a choice even if none exists. For example, when it is time for us to leave the house and we are in a hurry, if I just demand that she hustle and get in the car, I'm likely to be met with resistance and crying. Instead, if I present the outing as an adventure and offer her an exciting choice between her red boots and her black sneakers, she will likely be distracted by the wardrobe choice and becomes much easier to manage.

Likewise, giving my daughter some warning about upcoming changes also… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Parenting Styles.  (2010, April 6).  Retrieved January 17, 2021, from

MLA Format

"Parenting Styles."  6 April 2010.  Web.  17 January 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Parenting Styles."  April 6, 2010.  Accessed January 17, 2021.